Michael Jackson towered over the Eighties the way no superstar before or since has dominated an era — not even Elvis or the Beatles. And Thriller is the reason why. Still in his early twenties, the R&B child star of the 1970s had ripened into a Technicolor soul man: a singer, dancer, and songwriter with incomparable crossover instincts.
He and producer Quincy Jones established the something-for-everyone template of Thriller on 1979’s Off the Wall [see No. 36], on which Jackson captures the rare mania of his life — the applause and paranoia, the need for love and the fear of commitment — in a crisp fusion of pop hooks and dance beats. On Thriller, the pair heighten the sheen (the jaunty gloss of “The Girl Is Mine,” with a guest vocal by Paul McCartney), pump up the theater (the horror-movie spectacular “Thriller”), and deepen the funk. With its locomotive cadence and an acrobatic metal-guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen, “Beat It” was arguably the first industrial-disco Number One.
It is hard now to separate Thriller from its commercial stature (Number One for 37 weeks, 33 million copies sold), the nightmarish tabloid celebrity that led to Jackson’s death, and the horrific revelations about him that have surfaced in recent years. But there was a time when we only knew Jackson as the King of Pop. This is it. - RollingStone.com